March 10, 2018

An interview with the Director - Part 3 - Milestones and Moments

An interview with Pierre Massie - Director and founder of The Stairwell Carollers - on the choir's 40th Anniversary
Part 3 - Milestones and Moments   

(this post appears originally in the Stairwell Carollers Choir Blog)

                     Part 1              Part 2
I understand that the first half of your choir's 40th Anniversary season was a rousing success, with record- breaking Xmas concert attendance, CD sales, and a special 40th anniversary $3000 donation to the Shepherds of Good Hope.  Could you share a few thoughts on what the Anniversary Christmas season has meant to you.  

I had a very good feeling about the first part of our 40th season.  I'm thrilled that our audience has increased over the years.  For me, standing there singing with the choir, it was really special.  I loved hearing what our guest MCs said about their experiences with the Stairwell Carollers. "Brought a tear to me eye".
Pete taps the tuning fork to his head to get notes before the Knox Xmas concert.
 To finish off the 40th season, I understand you have programmed a special May workshop and concert in Arnprior. Could  you tell us a bit about that, why the workshop, why Arnprior, and who have you invited as your guest facilitator.  

I was looking for a workshop retreat where choir members could spend several days in full choral mode. A chance to absorb and learn and grow. To get that experience, we needed a venue that was away from home base.  In our research we found a gorgeous nature retreat in Arnprior.  It's the perfect setting to focus while enjoying nature.  Two of the best ways to feed one's spirit.

This was also a chance for us to invite a celebrity choral clinician to run through a few workshop with us. Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor, a classically trained singer and choral director from Seattle, will be flying down for the event.  Gabe sang with the professional vocal ensemble Chanticleer, and has his master’s degree in choral conducting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Video of Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor singing with Chanticleer - from his website.

The last of the three workshop will be in combination with approximately 30 of Glebe Collegiate's singers. Rachel Handley, the director of the four Glebe choirs will be joining us for the weekend and her students will travel to Arnprior on Saturday, for an afternoon workshop with our clinician.

The whole event will culminate in a concert at St Chrysostom church on Saturday May 5 at 8pm. Each of the choirs will perform selections and for the final part, will combine in a mass choir to sing 4 pieces.  Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor will join the basses and will sing Hostias, a solo from Fauré's requiem, while the choirs accompany in the background.  It'll all end with the "O Domine" from the same work - both of which I adapted for a cappella voices.

The Arnprior workshop/concert also features choirs (or is it one choir?) from Glebe Collegiate, where you used to  teach. How meaningful is that connection for you? I understand you have mentored many Glebe students in the Stairwell  Carollers adult choir, that's kind of cool. Are any of them still singing in the choir, or in other choirs?  
Hilarious shot of ex-Glebe students turned Stairwellers taken in Rogers Ottawa TV studio before a taping
Pete grins while ex-Glebe Stairwellers pose thug-style
Over the course of several years, the carollers have had 7 Glebe singers in the group. One of them is still with us - now in his sixth year with the choir.  Others sang between 5 and 10 years with the group. All of these were former students in the instrumental program which I taught at Glebe - and many of them were part of Offbeat - the stomp-like percussion group I started in 2001. It means a lot to me that my students wanted to keep up the connection even after my retirement. The 30 Glebe singers that will be joining us in Arnprior for this event are selected from Glebe's Full, Concert, Chamber, and Man choirs.

After Arnprior, you scheduled two concerts in the Ottawa area. Tell us about the type of program you have  assembled. I know your Xmas program was all-Canadian to celebrate Canada's 150th. What led you to choose the pieces you've selected for the spring program? Are there any personal stories behind any of them, special connections, or  particular challenges that you wanted the choir to explore and overcome?  

The program for the May and June concerts is made up of secular and sacred songs from all eras.  It makes for a varied program that keeps our audiences well entertained.

Program suggestions are made by the members and from that, I choose songs from previous years and add new works to challenge the group. Adding secular contemporary works provides that challenge in spades. In terms of Canadian content the group will perform my award-winning Eya, eya, gaudeamus and a very challenging arrangement by David Rain, one of our tenors, which we will be premiering at our May concert.
David, tenor, previews one of his new compositions at the annual Stairwell Christmas party.
I know the choir is still fundraising to support the remaining 40th anniversary activities. What message would you send to prospective donors to encourage their support?  

Our 40th anniversary workshops aim to engage both adult and young community members in an enriching choral experience - improving technical and artistic excellence and helping to inspire singers to continue studying music and singing in choral groups.

The youth singers will receive the double benefit of the master classes themselves, while also singing alongside an experienced adult choir, the Stairwell Carollers. We also consider it important that all members of the choir and all interested Glebe  Collegiate vocal students be able to attend.  To this end we ask for donations to not only cover the workshop expenses but to cover expenses of participants regardless of individual financial situations. When workshops of this nature are provided to high school students, everyone is required to pay a fee. We want to avoid having to do this and so we are approaching all communities to help make this happen.

We have currently raised over $11,000 and need another $4000 to reach our goal. Donations can be made on our website.

6. Any final thoughts on this 40th anniversary season? Will you be taking a long rest after this exhausting season, or are you eagerly awaiting the next batch of new songs to test out during your 41st season?  

I'm always eager to see what our upcoming repertoire will be. I think that it has been a very productive and satisfying 40th year and I always look forward to a the rest between seasons. Starting in May, I will again ask for suggestions for Xmas repertoire from the choir members and I have a couple of new carol arrangements to try out as well. David's work "In natali" will certainly be on the list.

I also look forward to start up every season, as it's always so satisfying to commune with fellow singers in the spirit of song.

Thanks Pete
Thank you David!

Part 1    Part 2

About The Stairwell Carollers:

Pierre Massie began our a cappella choir way back in 1977 while studying music at Ottawa U. The Stairwell Carollers are ranked with the best of Ontario choirs, winning both the 2010 and 2013 Ontario Music Festival Association competitions. 

A registered Canadian charity, we also help local charities with our concert, CD and cookbook salesNet proceeds benefit charity.

Please DONATE to support our 40th year workshops! 
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